Criminal Justice Career Tip: Grab a Coffee

Criminal Justice Career Tip: Grab a Coffee ~ Part 1

If you are unsure if a career is a right fit, or of the best way to get into the field, an informational interview is a great place to start.

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I was excited to read that last week, those interested in a law enforcement career could stop by a local Starbucks and meet with Tucson Police Department recruiters for a “coffee talk”.

It reminded me of some words of advice from an interview did with Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster. He shared, “If you want to be a court clerk or a forensic investigator or whatever the career may be, if you’re not certain, the thing to do is go and talk to somebody about it and see if that’s the kind of work you really want to do, day in and day out.

It may seem bold to ask a police officer, a security specialist, a probation officer, a corrections officer or a paralegal out for a coffee. But believe it or not this is a known, successful career strategy. It may not necessarily be over hot beverages with whipped cream, but is called the “informational interview”.

The Informational Interview

Meeting someone working in the field that interests you (whether for coffee, at their office or somewhere else) is a great way to find out if that career is really for you, gain valuable advice on how to pursue that career and build your network of professional connections for down the road.

“Informational interviews are often easy to get, because they don’t rely on whether or not there are job vacancies or a candidate pool,” states Captain Timothy Roufa (in his article How to Find Jobs in Criminal Justice). “In fact, many people are happy to give informational interviews because they view them as an opportunity to help others and to build interest in their professions.”

Although the tables are turned (you ask the questions instead of the other way around) it doesn’t have to be nerve-wracking. If you show genuine interest in learning about that person’s expertise, the conversation will usually be a natural and comfortable experience.

Finding Someone to Meet With

Perhaps the easiest way to find someone to meet with is through a connection of someone you know, like your uncle’s best friend or your mother’s second cousin. But it’s not always going to be that easy.

Some places to look for professionals:

  • A local workplace/employer (i.e. police or sheriff’s department, law firm, corrections office, district attorney’s office, a computer forensics company, etc.)
  • Search professional networking sites (like LinkedIn or Google+) for people in your city that have the job title you are interested in.
  • Contact professional associations to see if they can introduce you to someone in your area. (On the Internet, search for professional associations representing the occupation you are interested in.) Examples of national/international associations include: International Police Association, American Alliance of Paralegals, National Criminal Justice Association, American Academy of Forensic Sciences, American Correctional Association, ASIS International, National Organization for Victim Assistance, National Sheriffs’ Association, National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, International Association of Women Police… (There are also often professional associations by region or state.)

In Part 2, we’ll talk about how to contact professionals you’d like to set up an informational interview with, and some of the types of questions you should ask when you meet.